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11,000 face sack in Macau as Sands struggles for cash

Macau, a former Portuguese colony and now a special administrative region of China, has attracted a flood of foreign investment in recent years since it liberalised its gaming market, ending local tycoon Stanley Ho's monopoly.
by Staff Writers
Macau (AFP) Nov 13, 2008
Up to 11,000 construction workers are to lose their jobs as US gaming giant Las Vegas Sands delays a huge development in gambling haven Macau, the head of Las Vegas Sands Asia said Thursday.

Stephen Weaver told a news conference that until the company could secure additional financing, it had taken the "conservative" measure to suspend work on the project, leaving the 11,000 workers on the site facing dismissal.

But he insisted that current operations in Macau -- including the gargantuan Venetian casino which opened last year -- were profitable, and that the new projects would go ahead once new cash was secured.

"We have got 1.2 billion US dollars put into the ground, and we are not going to walk away from it. We are a firm believer that we need the rooms to grow the market," Weaver told reporters.

"I think there is no possibility" that construction would not start again."

He said the company was now searching for between 1.5 and 2 billion US dollars of financing from a syndicate of banks, including some from Asia, so they could restart the work, which includes a Sheraton hotel and three casinos.

He said he hoped the new construction would start within the next six months.

"You have to say we are optimistic to get it done within six months or we wouldn't have suspended it, we would have terminated it," he said.

The structure of several huge towers have already been completed at the site, which sits opposite the Venetian.

The company's US-listed share price has fallen from around 148 dollars last October to just 8 dollars this week on worries about its heavy debt levels.

On Tuesday, Sands said it was halting some of its projects across the world because of problems accessing credit. It insisted that a new casino resort in Singapore would go ahead.

Weaver said the company remained in a strong position and had no need to ask for assistance from the Macau government.

Macau, a former Portuguese colony and now a special administrative region of China, has attracted a flood of foreign investment in recent years since it liberalised its gaming market, ending local tycoon Stanley Ho's monopoly.

Of the 11,000 workers who are working on the site and face being sacked, 2,000 are from Macau and 4,000 are from nearby Hong Kong, with the remainder from mainland China, Weaver said.

Those not residents of the city of 550,000 people would be deported, he said.

Sands was the first foreign operator to open a casino in the city -- the only place in China where casino gambling is allowed -- and has been at the forefront of the construction that has transformed the landscape.

Chairman and chief executive Sheldon Adelson, who made his fortune in Las Vegas, has built his success on the motto: "Build it and they will come."

He has ploughed one billion dollars of his own money back into the firm in recent weeks to shore up its balance sheet, but Weaver said the strategy was still valid.

"At the end of the day 'build it and they will come' worked," Weaver said, adding that the Venetian was operating at more than 95 percent capacity.

"With 2.2 million visitors a month, clearly the model is working. We are a very profitbale business here. Our issue is that there is not liquidity in the banking markets."

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UN calls for world leaders to embrace 'Green New Deal'
Beijing (AFP) Nov 13, 2008
World leaders must start building a "Green New Deal" when they meet this weekend to map a route out of the global financial crisis, the United Nations Environment Programme chief said here Thursday.

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